Another obscure rules maneuver was attempted to force action on a private-school scholarship bill at the Wyoming Legislature on Friday.
It was the latest of a handful of attempts made during the 2023 session to override the power of the House speakler, none of which have been successful. All have been made by members of the the populist conservative Wyoming Freedom Caucus to override House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale.
In Friday’s latest attempt, Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, made a motion to have the Wyoming Freedom Scholarship Act-2, a bill that establish a scholarship fund to send some Wyoming students to private schools, pulled out of the speaker’s drawer and put up for discussion.
Andrew mentioned a Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedures rule that says a motion can be made to simply remove a bill from the speaker’s desk without referring it to any committee.
“This motion allows us to pull this bill from the desk,” Andrew said.
It’s the job of the speaker to determine which bills will move to a committee and when. Friday was the deadline for a bill to be considered in the second house and moved to a committee before expiring.
Andrew argued that the Mason’s rules, which the Legislature often refers to, allows for a bill to be acted on, if no action has already taken place on it already, with a majority vote.
Sommers ruled Andrew’s motion out of order, saying the Legislature’s rules still take precedence over Mason’s.
“Our rules trump Mason’s,” he said.
The Speaker’s Prerogative
Sommers referred to his inherent power to decide whether a bill will be taken from his desk.
He said to suspend his decision making, the House would have to suspend a rule that states, “the speaker shall have the authority to determine whether to introduce and refer a bill to committee.” He later clarified that “introduced” means to pull a bill out of his desk.
“It’s either in my possession or it’s not and in order to get it out of my possession you have to suspend 4-7 (b),” he said, citing the rule number.
Andrew challenged, leading to a short Rules Committee conference.
“It’s either in my desk or it’s referred to a committee,” Sommers could be heard saying during the committee. “That’s my response to the Rules Committee for the bill.”
Once back in the Speaker’s chair, Sommers announced it was a “fairly” unanimous decision of the Rules Committee that Andrew’s objection should be overruled and the Legislature’s rules take precedence over Mason’s.
Andrew then appealed, saying pulling a bill from the drawer and referring to a committee are not one and the same.
“We are not referring it to any committee. We are not committing it,” he said.
Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Clark Stith backed Sommers and said the Wyoming constitutional requirement that a bill must be considered by a committee before it can become law.
Andrew said he had another motion planned if his appeal were to pass, but he had never got that far. His appeal was rejected on a voice vote.
The education bill passed the Senate on Feb. 2 with a 17-14 vote, and that’s as far as it’s gotten.
Rep. Jeannette Ward, R-Casper, another Freedom Caucus member, launched a failed effort on Tuesday to recall a bill from Sommers’ desk and get it assigned to the House Agriculture Committee. Another rule override was attempted to get a bill moved to a different committee than Sommers had assigned it to.
Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, made reference to some of these rule acrobatics while discussing a different bill Friday.
“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should,” he said. “I can do all kinds of really crazy things, and by the way, they’re happening down the hall right now.”
Driskill made his comments during a discussion about a bill on changing political party affiliation. Even though this House bill was defeated in a Senate committee, the Senate voted to bring the bill back and assign it to a new committee.
The bill passed through the Senate on Friday and only needs to receive concurrence in the House before moving on to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk.